The latest crop of young entrants to conservative discourse is drawing a lot of media fascination. And understandably: there are vanishingly few young people, especially with college degrees, who identify as conservative. Many, especially older conservatives, want to know what the young right thinks, says, reads, and looks like. For more established generations invested in the conservative movement, the young are viewed with a sense of urgency. They must be studied and their insights heeded to ensure conservatism’s longevity.
Speaking from experience, many academic or membership programs like those at American Compass and the American Enterprise Institute afford real friendship, intellectual growth, cultivation of virtue, and merriment to participants. But other programs, often out of political strategy, seem more focused on building highly visible pedestals for their young, talented participants, pushing them to cultivate personal branding without providing requisite character formation. Some are prepared to lead at a young age and do so successfully, of course, and it’s good that they have such opportunities. Nor do I suggest that any current young leaders are ill-suited for their role; rather, I am cautioning against a growing attitude of urgency to save conservatism and defeat “wokism” by turning armies of 22-year-olds into pundits. It’s a failing strategy, and it doesn’t instill the virtues needed to lead well. Enabling swaths of young intellectuals to enjoy podiums and attention from awed onlookers is a dangerous game and puts psychologically unhealthy pressure on those not ready for the spotlight. Moreover, it lends too much credence to many voices that haven’t had the time to take in reality’s various inflections, which usually force a little humility.